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FAC is go, three-strike rule is a no

By | Published on Friday 13 March 2009

So, Robbie and Billy and Kate and KT, and members of Blur, Radiohead, Travis and even Marillion were at the big first London meeting of the all new Featured Artist Coalition on Wednesday night, and as I think this photo superbly demonstrates, they all know how to put their fist in the air. Well, not quite all.

One of the benefits of having a trade body that includes some of the more famous names of British music among its membership was immediately apparent as news studios across the UK TV and radio networks threw open their doors on Wednesday to some of those famous faces providing them with a very public platform to state their case.

The interviews got hijacked a little by the YouTube/PRS squabble that preceded the meeting by two days, though that was probably good news for the business side of the music world as it’s one of the areas where most artists are in agreement with their record companies and publishers – they too believe that mega-gloms like Google really should be paying artists a fair fee if they want to build their business using said artists’ music.

Though of course we shouldn’t expect the FAC to be in agreement with the labels and publishers on every issue. Indeed, the reason it has been set up is because of a growing feeling amongst the artist community that, as the old fashioned record industry declines and a new kind of music business rises in its place, lots of deals are being done between label and publishing execs and the business’ new customers – web firms, brands, new media etc – and artists have so far not been particularly involved in those deals.

As Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien told the BBC ahead of the meeting: “A lot of the rights and revenue streams are being carved up, and we need a voice. We need to be in there and we need to be discussing it, and I think all the major players want to hear what we have to say”.

Quite how FAC will interact with the Music Managers’ Forums is less clear. Managers are, of course, in theory at least, there to work in their artists’ interests, and the MMF has very much facilitated the launch of the Coalition. But the artists are in control and it will be interesting to see how much they develop their own agenda apart from that of the MMF.

The first issue on which the FAC may come into conflict with the corporate side of the industry is that old favourite, how to deal with illegal file sharing. According to Billboard, sources at the press-free meeting report that the topic came up during a discussion on the government’s much previously reported ‘Digital Britain’ document, on which interested parties have been asked to feedback by this week.

The also much previously reported three-strike system, which would see persistent file-sharers who do not heed warnings from their ISP about their file sharing having their net connections terminated, was also raised. This isn’t mentioned in ‘Digital Britain’, though both France and New Zealand are introducing it, and some in the UK music business do see it as a very really option as part of their mission to increase the role internet service providers play in policing piracy.

FAC it seems won’t back those proposals, should they become a reality in the UK. Those sources say there was a unanimous show of hands when it was asked who opposed any measures that criminalised file-sharing fans, or led to them losing their internet connection. Where the body would stand on services like The Pirate Bay, who enable, in one way or another, the file sharing their fans do, normally through a profit making business, isn’t clear.

Either way, I think its fair to say the record companies and publishers and music corporates will find that the FAC is both a friend and a foe. When the industry tries to keep artists out of the deal making they’ll have a new vocal and media-friendly opponent.

But on issues where the industry and many key artists agree – like the PRS/YouTube thing – they’ll have a credible body of familiar faces to speak out on their behalf. And because the FAC will presumably be known as a bit of a dissenter at times, when the body’s board does speak in support of the industry’s viewpoint it should be a whole load more credible than when the majors somewhat embarrassingly wheeled out big pop stars to speak out against file sharing back in the very early days of the P2P phenomenon.